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A suite scene at a Hyatt Summerfield, but don't expect the luxe life

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It sounded like one of those too-good-to-be true travel come-ons. Not quite a Caribbean cruise for two for $200. But just as alluring if you're a road soldier on a frugal expense account - or paying your own way.

The $89 a night offer: a homey two-bedroom, two-bath suite with three TVs, full kitchen, living room, dining table with free Wi-Fi, high-speed Internet, a gratis business center with four Dell PCs open round the clock, plus a hot breakfast, happy hour and a Thursday night "grilling social" in the courtyard with everything from burgers to brownies, barbecued chicken to corn on the cob tossed in - and on the house.

The Hyatt Summerfield Suites in posh Scottsdale, Ariz., quoted the rate over the phone. No punching up a Web site. No special code. No blind bidding. And it wasn't limited to Hyatt Gold Passport members.



I was playing the numbers game. Phoenix was sweltering in record-busting heat, 113 degrees three days straight. The Hyatt at Gainey Ranch, a palm-studded resort filled with the bronzed and the beautiful, was sold out at $249 a night. Fine. I had spent four days at a Hyatt resort in Hawaii and paid $17 a night just to use the Internet that broke down more than a few times. The business center was living off conventioneers and mai tai swilling vacationers who ponied up for the high prices and I was tipping at high speed for so-so service.

But Hyatt Summerfield Suites (www.hyattsummerfieldsuites.com) a so-called "extended stay" hotel, doesn't ladle on four-star perks. I wasn't expecting any, so I wasn't disappointed when I walked in the room. It looked like a newlyweds' first apartment, furnished in circa 1980s Levitz. But it was comfortable, even homey. I don't need a plasma screen TV; the cable system had plenty of channels plus some rooms have VCRs. The new and renovated Summerfield's have 32-inch flat panel TVs and DVD players.

The desk in the bedroom was narrow and had a functional lamp, but when I plugged into the high speed Internet (the front desk will loan you a cable), it knocks out all the phones; you can't dial the front desk. So, by default, the compact dining room table became my desk. The Internet works out there without torpedoing other in-room telecommunications gear.

Meanwhile, the overhead plastic light fixture is hellish on the eyes and Summerfield Suites could pop for a $39 desk chair from Office Max instead of the cheap, back-straining chair that matches the table. Packs of French roast coffee instead of the bland Maxwell House would be a welcome treat. Still, the generous soap, shampoo and conditioner wowed me - OK, pleasantly surprised me. I was expecting that sliver of Ivory or Lux that I collect from Hampton Inns.

The "great room" lobby is inviting enough. Breakfast is hot and it won't make the cover of Bon Appetit - eggs, bacon, weak orange juice, fruit, and cereals - but it's included in the rate and the coffee is good and hot for 24 hours. Nibblers can 'shop' at a tiny market next to the front desk; however, there is no Wall Street Journal or New York Times on sale to go along with the USA Today that's at your front door.

The evening "happy hour" has Bud and Bud Light on draft, carafes of an unidentified red and white wine and bowls of salsa and chips. But I'm not carping. There was no $12 tab for the glass of wine that is de rigueur, it seems, at hotel bars these days.

This Summerfield Suites has plenty of regulars who like the more-for-your-money mindset and can live without designer style and servers. L. Bruce Sholes, global product manager for SAP Labs, lives in Huntsville, Ala., when he's home, which isn't that often and stays here because his Phoenix area office is two blocks away. SAP gets a $74 a night rate during "hot season" and about twice that during the fall and winter when the town is jammed.

"The staff is super here," says Sholes.

Checking his e-mail on his laptop during the happy hour and commandeering a table with an AC power outlet, Sholes says the WiFi works fine and the price is right.

"Hotel Internet prices in Europe are absurd," he says. "It's $19 a day at the Sheraton at the Frankfurt Airport and about that at most Marriotts."

He avoids Marriott Courtyards because he says the net is $10 a day and he resents it, but he fancies Hilton Garden Inns. The Marriott Courtyard in Scottsdale has free net access; however, charges $10 for a buffet breakfast, 75 cents per call and the rate for a room, not a suite, was $189 a night midweek.

Sholes is a Summerfield Suites true believer and is often ensconced a week to two weeks at time. He reserves Room 23 because it has a whiteboard and it's large enough to hold a small meeting. If he stays over the weekend, he'll use the outdoor grill and mingle with the guests. The 24-hour gym and pool suit him fine.

The Scottsdale hotel has three conferences room that seat from 12 to 50 for a fee.

On balance, the Summerfield concept is a clever one. But then it was created by a guy who deserves the accolade "visionary" - Jack DeBoer, a Wichita, Kan., one-time apartment builder, who invented the notion of long-stay, all-suite hotels with his Residence Inns. If you're a hotel history buff, DeBoer sold Residence Inns to Marriott. He also created Candlewood Inns, now owned by Intercontinental Hotels and Summerfield, which he sold to Wyndham International and a real estate investment trust. It is now a Hyatt, a deal or two later. DeBoer is now franchising Value Place, short-term residential hotels that start at $169 per week, not per night. He has 53 open so far. Checking out of Summerfield Scottsdale, I got a bit of a shock, but it was my own fault because I didn't ask. My $89 a night rate jumped to $129 the second night and local phone calls are 75 cents a piece. I racked up a lot because I didn't want to burn up my cell minutes. Before it switched to a Hyatt, Wyndham Summerfield had free local calls but charged for the Internet. Still even with the taxes, two nights at this Hyatt was less than one night at the nearby Hyatt Gainey Ranch resort where everything is a la carte.

The numbers game varies. When the town cools down toward year-end, Summerfield Suites Scottsdale asks for $225 a night. And gets it.

Chris Barnett writes on business travel strategies that save time, money, and hassles.
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